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Simply wearing a mask isn’t enough

Simply wearing a mask isn’t enough
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Whether you’re using a medical grade, disposable or DIY face covering, remember this: masks only work when worn and cared for correctly. Don’t make these mistakes.

Using the wrong materials

Using the wrong materials
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Ideally, a mask should be effective at filtering out coronavirus particles and also be made of breathable fabric. After all, if it’s not comfortable, you’re less likely to wear it correctly. A study found that certain fabrics have an edge in both attributes. When researchers studied 30 materials ranging from bra pads to coffee filters, those that fared best were lightweight denim, paper towels, and 100 percent cotton bedsheets with an 80 to 120 thread count. Fabrics made with natural fibres and a tighter weave were also shown to be better at filtering out virus particles. Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you hold your fabric up to the light and can see through it, the weave is too loose. Additionally, whatever material you use, it should be machine washable and dryable, so you can clean it regularly.

Learn how to make a DIY face mask.

Putting it on and taking it off incorrectly

Putting it on and taking it off incorrectly
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If you remember nothing else, remember to wash your hands first so you’re not inadvertently transferring virus particles to your mask and face. Remember to scrub your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds immediately before and after putting on a mask, and again immediately before and after removing it. “The main message is hand hygiene,” says Ann Marie Pettis, RN, the president-elect of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC). “You can’t overdo it.” Just be sure to moisturise frequently so your skin doesn’t develop small abrasions that could invite infection, she adds.

After you’ve washed, handle the mask only by the ear loops or ties. Secure one end first, and then stretch it over your mouth and nose. If you wear glasses, put those on last. To prevent fogging, wash them first with soapy water. You could also try FogTech DX wipes.

When taking off the mask, remove it from behind, taking care again to use the ear loops instead of touching the fabric. If your mask has ties, undo the bottom one first, then the top one. Finally, pull the mask away from your face and then down.

Learn more about how to stop your glasses from fogging up while wearing a mask.

Wearing it the wrong way

Wearing it the wrong way
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If your mask has pleats, they go on the outside, and the folded edge of the pleats should be on the bottom. Plus, the mask should fit snugly, covering your nose and mouth completely without gaps but still allowing you to breathe naturally. The sides of the mask should extend at least two centimetres past each corner of your mouth, and the bottom should wrap under your chin, which serves as an anchor. Men may have to trim their beards to ensure a good fit.

This is what doctors need you to know about face masks.

Putting it on too late

Putting it on too late
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Many people put on their masks as they enter a supermarket or other business, but that may be too late because unforeseen interactions can occur earlier. Ideally, you should put on your mask before you step out of your front door. If you live in an apartment, that’s especially important, says the New York Times, noting that elevators and stairwells can be especially germy.

These tricks to avoiding germs actually don’t work.

Taking it off too early

Taking it off too early
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Likewise, removing your mask when you get in your car might be too soon. Baylor College of Medicine’s Dr Allison Haddock recommends waiting until you’re home where you can remove it properly and wash your hands right away. If you must remove it sooner, don’t just toss it on the passenger seat; place it in a bag and use hand sanitiser before you touch anything else.

You can probably wear the same mask the whole time you’re out, for up to 12 hours, Pettis says, as long as it hasn’t become moist from your breath. “As soon as any mask becomes moist, it’s no longer effective and needs to be changed.”

Discover 10 ways you’re washing your hands wrong.

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Contaminating it

Contaminating it
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Stop touching your face. Really. “The thing I’ve noticed primarily is people not realising they’re touching the mask,” Pettis says. “They’re adjusting it, fiddling with it, potentially contaminating their hands,” or pulling it down to take a quick bite or drink. Any of these actions could introduce the coronavirus or other germs into your nose, mouth, or eyes. If you absolutely must adjust it, clean your hands before and afterward.

“The other thing I’ve noticed is people pulling the mask down and wearing it around their neck. It’s hanging there and collecting germs,” Pettis says. “A mask is either on or it’s off.”

If you wear a mask frequently or always feel like you have to scratch your nose when it’s on, consider using an anti-chafing balm like Body Glide or Face Glide, which the manufacturer says “forms a dry, invisible barrier to protect your skin against the effects of friction and rubbing.”

Learn how to avoid catching coronavirus in an elevator

Putting masks on the wrong people

Putting masks on the wrong people
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The CDC warns that infants and children under two should never wear masks. For one thing, their airways are smaller, making breathing through a mask more difficult. If babies do begin struggling to breathe, they’re unable to remove masks themselves, which could lead to suffocation. They also can’t follow instructions not to touch their masks. For similar reasons, people with dementia or other cognitive disabilities should not wear masks, though their caregivers should.

Finally, people with underlying respiratory conditions should also forgo masks, as they may not be able to breathe adequately while wearing one.

Not washing your mask

Not washing your mask
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If you wear a cloth mask frequently, it’s best to wash it every time you wear it. Use detergent in the hottest water the fabric can withstand. This is not the time to think about brightening the colours. “Heat will definitely kill this germ,” Pettis says. For that reason, experts also advise tumbling the masks in the dryer on the hottest setting the material will tolerate.

If you’re wearing a mask only occasionally, you can let it dry out in a paper bag between uses. “If you wore it once and it’s been a week since then, it’s probably fine to put it back on,” Pettis says, because the virus most likely doesn’t survive more than a day or two on soft surfaces.

Taking shortcuts

Taking shortcuts
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The Internet is rife with other ideas to get your mask clean faster, like spraying it with disinfectant or bleach or sanitising it in the microwave. Experts don’t recommend either of these methods. Even if the chemicals from a disinfectant spray have time to dissipate before you wear the mask again, it could still cause a respiratory or skin reaction. Besides, Pettis says, such products probably don’t do as good a job of removing virus particles from soft surfaces as it does from hard ones. Meanwhile, in the US firefighters report that they’ve been responding to house fires caused by masks overheating in the microwave. It’s not worth the risk just to avoid another load of laundry.

Follow these handy hints that make doing the laundry less of a hassle.

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